When we find ourselves afflicted, pressed down, and undergoing a trial, it becomes easy to look at James 1:2 or Romans 5:3 where we’re told to “consider it all joy as we encounter trials” or to “rejoice in our troubles” and think that we’re doing it wrong. Some days are just hard and we experience frustration or melancholy or even despair and that doesn’t match up with joy. If our circumstances don’t change for a long time, we begin to wonder if somehow there’s a lesson that we’re missing. Is this situation some sort of Aesop’s fable in which we need to internalize the moral before the circumstances lift?
My mind goes to when Jesus had to field a question about a man who’d been blind from birth — whether it was because of his sin or his parents’ sin.
Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”John 9:3
In spite of what our vanity often tells us, sometimes the circumstances we’re in aren’t about us at all. Have you considered my servant, Job?
Returning to the belief that that we need to be smiling in our trials, let’s dig deeper. Removing the parenthetical middle from James 1:2-12, we see how we can consider it all joy.
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect work, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all without hesitation and without reproach; and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, without any doubting—for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord— he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.James 1:2-12
But let the brother in humble circumstances boast in his high position— and the rich person in his humble position, because like the flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun arises with a scorching heat and withers the grass, and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed. So also the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will wither away.
Happy is the one who endures testing, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to those who love Him.
The joy ties not to the circumstances but to the endurance and its subsequent result. Further, when James tells us to ‘consider it all joy’, the word for ‘consider’ is ἡγέομαι:
2. hegeomai (ἡγέομαι, 2233), primarily, “to lead the way”; hence, “to lead before the mind, account,”(Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary)
We’re told, therefore, to lead our minds to all joy knowing that in standing the test, we will receive the crown of life. That is much different than enjoying your immediate circumstances and being happy about hurting. It requires long term thinking.
To understand this point, it helps to look at Jesus’ life here on Earth. He came only to do the Father’s will so we don’t have to worry about whether his circumstances were to teach him a lesson or because of his own failings. He was perfect. Nevertheless, his circumstances from moment to moment were not always great. Here are a few examples of when he experienced various trials (emphasis mine):
- “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is a lunatic and is very ill; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. I brought him to Your disciples, and they could not cure him.” And Jesus answered and said, “You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him here to Me.” And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured at once. (Matthew 17:15-18)
- And He *took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled. And He *said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.” (Mark 14:33-34)
- Jesus wept (John 11:35)
- And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. (Luke 22:44)
- And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” And He *came to the disciples and *found them sleeping, and *said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? (Matthew 26:39-40)
- In the days of His humanity, He offered up both prayers and pleas with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His devout behavior. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey Him. (Hebrews 5:7-9)
- About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” that is, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” (Matthew 27:46)
Where was His joy? It’s not a fair question, is it? And yet we get the answer to it in Hebrews 12:
Hebrews 12:1-3 Therefore, since we also have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let’s rid ourselves of every obstacle and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let’s run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking only at Jesus, the originator and perfecter of the faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.Hebrews 12:1-3
For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Jesus had long term thinking — His joy came from the prize that he could see on the horizon and He endured. By doing so, he paved the way for us to follow. Peter didn’t miss this point:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which perishes though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls1 Peter 1:3-9
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org